January 01, 2019

January 2019: a River Ran Through It.

I'm the sort of person who pays a lot of attention to my dreams, and not because I choose to believe they're prophetic, but because I know that they're instructive. Granted, dreams frequently speak in puns and the mental equivalent of pig Latin, but no matter what gets lost in communication, they are attempts at communication. One of the interesting things about dreams -- or at least, my dreams -- is that the more I pay attention to them, the more they use the same vocabulary.

The most frequently repeating dream that I have is based around a river... well, a creak actually... and more specifically, it was a creek that ran through a portion of the woods behind my house when I was five years old in the halcyon days of 1988 when my mother let my brother and I run wild. With the benefit of hindsight, I suspect that my mother let my twin brother and I run wild not simply because she was swamped with housework and couldn't be bothered to keep a leash on us, but also because she figured that we couldn't get into too much trouble if we were together. Is that sound logic?

At any rate, our house's backyard opened onto a forest that was run through with lots of slopes and hills but also a creek that sometimes turned into a river depending on the rain, and it was one of my pleasures to jump from the high embankment on one side of the creek to the lower shore on the other side of the creek. I don't know exactly why, but for whatever reason that creek became a central fixture in my dreams that's come back in one form or another more times than I can remember ever since then.

The first time this creek appeared, it was just a pond filled with Peter Pan-esque crocodiles and a shore littered with purple, octagonal crystals. It was idyllic, and the crocodiles were as tame as they were cartoonish. The next time this creek appeared, it had been smothered with a huge concrete checkerboard and the only reminder that it existed were the storm drains that emptied into its hidden depths. After that, I dreamed of walking through the woods in the summer with a company of adults, and when we found the river there was a muscled, adult man reclining naked on the shoreline.

I can't remember who said this, but I once read that there is no nostalgia felt so keenly as the nostalgia for that which never existed. In all these river dreams, I am consumed with a painfully felt sense of nostalgia to find a place that has been lost to me forever, and yet is imminently close to me at all times -- as if I were looking at a familiar street, but if I looked away for a moment and then back again, the familiar street would suddenly lead somewhere else. For many years I dreamed of the river but never saw it. I dreamed that I was hiking down country roads to find the river that must be tucked just behind the next hill, or walking in a dry riverbed to find where the water still flowed.

Eventually, the river proper returned to my dreams but in all these dreams the creek of my childhood was not a small river swollen with last night's rain, but a raging rapid filled with whitecaps that could swallow a dump truck. One slip into that water and there would be no return -- certain death awaited any who entered it. In all these dreams, I anxiously walked the near shore and tried to conceive a way of reaching the far shore, beyond which lay vast, untouched forests and waves of hills folded one against the other beyond which the horizon extended into infinity. For years my dreams fixated on the danger of the river and how to surpass it into the green beyond.

Given that my dreams come me and not the other way around, as I grew and changed so did my dreams. Eventually, I did enter the river, and for years I dreamed of being carried away against my will, struggling to stay afloat, or even drowning in a flood of Biblical proportions. Curiously, these dreams in which I was within the river itself also combined both terror and erotica into a rainbow of adventures. After much struggling, I did finally reach the other side of the river and this period of time was briefly marked by dreams of mountaineering and train trips along the spine of terrifyingly high mountains, but never any visit to the primeval forest whose mists enchanted green boughs of eternal summer.

It's said that anything is possible in dreams, but judging by my attainment of the other side of the river and the distinct absence of the promised Eden, I remain skeptical.

Having attained the far side of the river and not found what I wanted, my dreams returned me to the river. At first I navigated the currents, but eventually the river just dried up. The river which at first was wider than a six-lane highway had become a canyon, and I had become the prospector sifting the exhausted riverbed. The latest such entry in this series of dreams put me in the canyon with a female geologist who was digging for fossils which would explain the origin of life. As it happened, she had found many large geodes and quartz crystals, but they were irrelevant and contributed nothing of value to her research. Even I who first dreamed of these crystals when I was a young child and for the first time in 30 years dreamed of them again thought after an inspection that they were no longer important.

The nostalgia which had run through all these dreams no longer urged me toward my verdant Shangri-La, nor did it offer me the ecstasy or terror of sexual release. Instead, I was overcome with a feeling of emptiness and the need to dig, and not to dig for a river, but to dig for what shaped and guided the river. That which I have been compelled to find does not lay on the other side of the river, or within the river itself, but instead sleeps depths beneath depths in the caverns of the earth -- and nothing that I have known can help me reach it. If I understand my dreams correctly, I can only achieve my grail through that which I have never known.

But how do I find that which I have never known? How do I learn to see that which I previously and even now am not even aware exists? My waking mind doesn't yet know the answer to this question, but I'm hoping that my sleeping mind does and that if I listen closely it will tell me.

1 comment:

  1. Your observation about nostalgia for what never was here is interesting. There's an image of a leafy, shaded lake shore that has always haunted my dreams and daydreams. It always puts me in mind of something from the English countryside and bears an uncanny resemblance to the locale of the Lady of the Lake scenes from the 1981 movie Excalibur. I've never been anywhere like it, but I've always passionately long to find the place and feel real loss in dreams for not being able to do so. BTW: welcome back from the cabbage farm!


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